At least 84 people are dead after an attacker plowed a truck into crowds celebrating Bastille Day on the French Riviera, prompting President Francois Hollande to extend a state of emergency in the country.
The driver, identified by police sources as Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel, a 31-year-old Tunisian resident in France, also appeared to open fire before officers shot him dead. He was known to the police in connection with common crimes such as theft and violence but was not on the watch list of French intelligence services, the sources said.
The truck zig-zagged along the seafront Promenade des Anglais in the city of Nice as a fireworks display marking the French national day ended on Thursday night. It plowed into families and friends listening to an orchestra or strolling above the beach on the Mediterranean Sea.
Bystander Franck Sidoli said he had seen people go down. "Then the truck stopped, we were just five meters away. A woman was there, she lost her son. Her son was on the ground, bleeding," he told Reuters at the scene.
This is the third mass killing in Western Europe within the last eight months, and many fear that it will contribute to rising xenophobia and hate crimes against the Muslim community.
After visiting victims at Nice's Pasteur hospital, Hollande said about 50 people were still in a critical condition. The dead included many children. At least two Americans and one Russian were among those killed.
Early indications were that the attack was the work of a lone assailant. Tunisian security sources told Reuters the suspect had last visited his hometown of Msaken, about 120 km (75 miles) south of Tunis, four years ago. He was married with three children, and was not known by the Tunisian authorities to hold radical or Islamist views.
"France is filled with sadness by this new tragedy," Hollande said in a dawn address. "There's no denying the terrorist nature of this attack."
Only hours before the attack, he had announced plans to lift a state of emergency in place since November, when Islamic State gunmen and suicide bombers struck Paris entertainment spot on a Friday evening, killing 130 people.
In his address he said the state of emergency would now be extended by a further three months. He would call up military and police reservists to relieve forces worn out by enforcing it.
Major events in France have been guarded by troops and armed police since the Nov. 13 attacks. But those guarding the crowd on Thursday appeared unable to halt the Renault truck as it tore along pavements and a pedestrian zone.
A local government official said weapons and grenades were later found inside the vehicle. Nice-Matin newspaper said on Twitter that police were searching the attacker's home in the Nice neighborhood of Abattoirs.